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Mares: The Boston Marathon

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It was a beautiful day for the 117th running of the iconic Boston Marathon. This greatest participatory running event in the world is the distance runner’s haj, the ultimate goal of an average runner’s career. A million spectators line the course on Patriots Day from Hopkinton to Boston. I watched patches of the race on TV until Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won their respective laurel wreaths. I re-lived my own four Bostons, each one distinctive, and each one ending in triumph of man over miles, 26 plus of them.

Then came the tragedy. A friend called to say there had been a bombing at the Marathon. I turned on the TV, and for five seconds it could have been a repeat of my own finishes. The scene was calm with a smattering of runners trotting or trudging toward the finish line. The race clock read 4:09 , right about the time of my last Boston ,  and in the middle of the frame was a guy about my age and size. Then there was a huge blast and billowing smoke and this guy crumpled to the ground as if shot. Other runners scattered. Race officials poured into the street. The camera jumped. A second blast boomed. I immediately thought of two friends Rick Peyser and Paul Huyffer who were among the runners.

Over the next hours as details of the blast emerged, I was struck by a grim combination of shock and familiarity , as blood in the streets added Boston ’s horror to places like Beirut, and Baghdad, where car bombs killed 50 that same day. In Boston, almost diabolically on this day for runners, many of the injured had terrible leg injuries.

Then I went through the unavoidable questions, wondering who did this and were they domestic or foreign? Why had it take this long for them to pick a big soft target like this – and were they now watching the same repeated footage I was, and chuckling at the carnage and chaos they had wrought?

Fortunately, I reached Rick and Paul that evening. Rick had crossed the finish line about 3 minutes before the explosions. He said he’d been stunned by the first explosion - thinking at first that it must have been some sort of celebratory action (a cannon, firework of some kind). “Seconds later,” he said, “came the second explosion. All of the runners left the immediate area as soon as possible.”

My other friend Paul and his daughter were just turning onto Hereford Street three minutes from the finish when the bombs went off. He said “The police told us to go toward the river and run for your lives. ” Eventually, they found shelter, food, and a computer to e-mail their family to tell them they were safe.

From now on, the Boston Marathon will never be the same, but it should always BE. Otherwise the terrorists win. We may have to live WITH fear but we should be determined not live IN fear.